Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A scripted Q & A

Condoleeza Rice recently passed through Paris to give a speech at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (or Science-Po as it is known to the locals). After serenading them with her concert piano recital, she gave them a run-down of the priorities of the Bush administration during its second term, including democracy promotion abroad. This was no accident, delivering such an address in France. It was a calculated move which was intended to stress the similarities between US and French/European culture and the need to show a unified front in the face of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes abroad. The upside is that she showed little of the “Euro-bashing” that her administration has thrived on since its move toward war in the Middle East. Gone were the “punish France” invectives uttered by Rice in that tumultuous time. This was a charming Rice who knew which keys to press in this diplomatic recital. Very well done on that front.

The downside is that the Secretary of State stuck to the Bush administration’s practice of pre-screening questions. This is unfortunate for both sides of this trans-atlantic relationship. The Bush Administration comes off as still too scared to answer questions about its policies abroad. And for all the blather about a historical relationship that supercedes any current disagreements, they still seem rather suspicious of the French. On the other hand, criticism of the Bush administration in the French press has run the gamut of « abusers of human rights » (Abu Graid) to « greedy oil-grubbers » (Where are those WMD?). While much of their criticism is valid, these accusations just muddy the waters of the real debate : Iraq, democracy, and an agressive foreign policy. France risks leaving itself on the sidelines if it doesn’t have anything useful to propose. Criticizing is one thing, actually proposing an alternative is something entirely different, which is why I liked the recent opinion piece by Justin Vaïsse in Le Monde. Vaïsse takes Rice’s speech as the heart of the Bush policy and says what I’ve been saying all along:

Du coup, la vraie question est plutôt : quelles sont les meilleures politiques pour promouvoir la liberté ? Condi Rice a exposé la vision américaine. A nous Européens, et peut-être plus particulièrement à nous Français, d'énoncer plus clairement notre vision de la promotion de la démocratie, pour être fidèles à nos idéaux et plus efficaces dans le cadre transatlantique.

[What exactly is the means to promote democracy? Rice has spelled out the US position, now what is ours? Shouldn’t we the French be providing a clear alternative if we object so much to the US vision?] The answer, in short, is OUI! And he lays out five things to consider in doing so:

1) Is it wiser to promote democracy from the exterior (by force, threats) or from the interior (support of dissident groups, sanctions)?

2) What alternative is there to the “radioactive” US presence in the Middle East? Why do we, Europeans, offer only lukewarm support for the dissidents, often to put distance between European and US policy. But to what end?

3) If the US wants to make “liberty” the organizing principle of US foreign policy, how can we make sure that our principles of “human rights” are respected as well?

4) The US focuses on justice in its quest for liberty, while Europe focuses on righting social wrongs: inequality, injustice, destruction of the environment, poverty…none of which makes for a good marriage with democracy.

5) And finally, where do we place democracy promotion on the list of global priorities? Rice has stated the US priorities, democracy promotion is at the top. Where is it on the European list?

There is much to discuss here and we intend to here in the next few days. But this is a beginning. Someone has finally asked the Europeans for some details. If Rice won’t accept them in the friendly confines of an academic/political discussion, then maybe the discussion can be brought to them.

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